Having been swept along with General Election hype over the last two weeks I have now taken a deep breath and tried to think through whether I believe this is a good idea.
On the plus side:
- The Party at a national level is very much ready to fight an election - why stop now when everything is geared up and ready to go?
- I think there's a genuine chance of net Labour gains in terms of votes and seats compared to 2005.
- There's a strategic opportunity to stop Cameron's renewal of the Tories in its tracks and put them in a position where they have expended the best leader they are likely to have in the near future and made no progress - it could even trigger a split or realignment on the right.
- Will we be able to sustain an 11% lead in the polls until a later date?
- It gives voters a chance to say whether they want Brown as PM.
On the minus side:
- Time would be helpful in terms of organisational preparation at a constituency level (though that cuts both ways and would allow the Tories more time to spend Ashcroft's millions).
- The polls are volatile - it would be good to see a longer run of poll leads.
- Do we have a real handle on the regional trends and the trends in marginal seats behind the recent poll leads? An 11% national lead is not much use if it is all stacked up in safe seats not marginals, or if losses to the SNP offset gains from the Tories.
- Risk that voters see it as an unnecessary poll as we have 3 years of mandate left and punish us.
- November is going to be cold and dark which will militate against effective campaigning and inevitably depress turnout, which will be bad for democracy and probably disproportionately impact on Labour.
- If we are confident of our ability to govern and that we have new policy ideas - the answer to which is yes on both counts - then these should feed through in to a sustained poll lead - maybe even a growing one - so the risk that "we'll never be 11% ahead again" is actually one that it is in our power as the party in government to remove. Maybe we can even build a bigger lead?
- The strategic objective of halting Cameron and his phony modernisation project can be achieved without a quick General Election if we are confident we can sustain or build our position in the polls. Because most Tories don't actually buy into his vision, if we are ahead for months, not weeks, they will launch a leadership coup against him and destroy themselves before a General Election.
- From a purely London point-of-view there is a tactical advantage to holding the General Election in May on the same day as the Mayor and GLA elections to increase turnout and campaigning activity in these, which would help Ken see off Boris and help keep the BNP off the GLA.
Personally I love election campaigns and can't think of any better way to spend the next month - and I know that most Labour colleagues are ready and waiting for the balloon to go up - but - and it's a very balanced and marginal decision (and one where unlike the decision-maker I don't have a full deck of polling data or insight into the potential threats coming up on the political and economic horizon) - on balance I think I would play it long and not go for an election this side of Spring.